Eating at what many consider "healthy" fast food restaurants like Subway won't necessarily keep you as slim as Jared. Cornell University researchers recently stopped 500 diners as they left either Subway or McDonald's, asking them to estimate how many calories were in their meals. The average McDonald's patron guessed 876 calories when the real count was 1,093. By comparison, the typical Subway customer estimated 495 calories when the real count was 677—much higher than her guess!
"There's a big health halo that surrounds everything related to Subway," says Brian Wansink, PhD, lead researcher of the study and author of Mindless Eating. "People feel that they can justify extras like cookies and chips." What's more, when researchers tracked the diners at both fast-food establishments until dinnertime, the Subway group snacked more throughout the day, consuming an extra 112 calories, on average.
That said, there are healthy choices to be made at fast-food restaurants. The key word in that statement is "choices." Think before you order, and remember to say no to value meal deals that add extra items like fries and a drink. Odds are, any fast food add-ons will wind up doubling your calories with little to no extra nutrition.
1. FAT-FREE LATTE
At just 130 calories, you can get a dose of caffeine and a serving of healthy fat-free calcium with this afternoon coffee-shop treat. Just be sure to order a small, and if you'd like to add a little sweetness without doubling your calories, ask for a pump or two of sugar-free vanilla syrup.
A small chili from Wendy's provides 227 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and a whopping 14 grams of protein. This hearty side is high in sodium (830 grams), but it also delivers 10% of a day's worth of iron.
3. LIGHTER FARE
A few chain restaurants have caught on to customers' cravings for lighter selections. For example, Au Bon Pain recently introduced a menu collection called Portions that features 14 dishes containing 200 calories or less, among them brie, fruit, and crackers; and chickpea and tomato salad.
4. BAKED POTATO
Even topped with chives and sour cream, a baked potato from Wendy's clocks in at under 350 calories, with 10 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. (A potato eaten with the skin is a top-notch source of fiber, as well as potassium.) You'll also get 110% of your daily vitamin C requirement, plus 20% of your recommended iron and calcium intakes—making this drive-through side a fairly well-rounded meal.
5. FLATBREAD SANDWICHES
Just because fast food is convenient doesn't mean it has to be oversized, fried, or served on a bun. Quiznos offers six 160- to 240-calorie Sammies, petite flatbread sandwiches like Sonoma Turkey and Bistro Steak Melt. Dunkin' Donuts has come out with Oven-Toasted Flat-bread Sandwiches that are easy to hold and eat for breakfast or lunch. At less than 300 calories and about 6 grams of fat, these light meals are a guilt-free way to eat on the run.
6. GRILLED ITEMS
We're not talking burgers here. Usually, a fast food joint's grilled or roasted options—think turkey, chicken breast, lean ham, and even roast beef—provide fewer calories and less fat, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic. Skip the fries and be smart about the toppings (no mayo, more veggies), and you're on the right track.
6 Worst For You Fast Foods
Studies show that just hours after a person eats a typical fast-food lunch, fat globules start to collect in the blood vessels. It's easy to see why repeated consumption of these unhealthy meals can contribute to heart trouble, diabetes, and obesity. Blame this bad news on an overload of calories, fat, and sodium—the major concerns of a fast-food-heavy diet. All tie in to what may be the biggest (pun intended) problem with fast food: portion sizes.
The film Super Size Me shed light on mega-portions—and not coincidentally, "supersize" options vanished from certain fast-food menus after the film's release. Still, oversized servings are the norm for the fast-food industry. McDonald's has unveiled a 1/3-pound Angus burger, which you can wash down with a 42-ounce beverage called a Hugo. That's roughly the equivalent of 477 calories of cola. Some establishments are being a bit sneakier: What was once a Great Biggie order of fries at Wendy's was reintroduced in 2006 as a large. It's 0.2 ounce smaller, but still in excess of 500 calories.
Best advice: When ordering fast food, choose the smallest size, regardless of its name. Stick with single-patty burgers, or order a kid's size. And be sure to steer clear of these foods if you want to keep your nutrition on track, even at the drive-through.
1. ARBY'S ROAST TURKEY & SWISS.
Sure, it sounds healthy. But with those supersize slabs of bread, you get 725 calories, 8 grams of saturated fat, and more than a full day's worth of sodium! If you must, order it without the mayo to make it healthier, and save half of the sandwich for the next day.
2. SUBWAY FOOT-LONG SWEET ONION CHICKEN TERIYAKI SUB
Don't be fooled by the Subway "health halo." This sandwich delivers 9 grams of fat, not to mention nearly 800 calories. On top of that, you'll be getting more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium with your sub. Most adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day.
3. CINNABON CARAMEL PECANBON
At 1,100 calories, 141 grams of carbohydrate, 8 grams of protein, and 56 grams of fat (no, that isn't a typo), this sticky-sweet treat from the food court is more like a dirty and dangerous trick. Do yourself a favor and steer clear of this monster "snack."
4. MCDONALD'S FILET-O-FISH
Usually fish is a healthier choice than a burger, but not in this case. A McDonald's Filet-O-Fish contains 380 calories, which isn't that outrageous—until you consider the 18 grams of saturated fat. To make this sandwich less of an insult to your heart, ask for no mayonnaise or tartar sauce; at about 100 calories per tablespoon, these condiments can add up fast.
5. BURGER KING TENDER-CRISP CHICKEN SANDWICH
The Tendercrisp will fill you up with 800 calories and 46 grams of fat. Add a side and/or a soda to your sandwich, and you'll be getting way more than a full day's allotment of calories and fat in one sitting—without a single respectable serving of veggies or fruit in sight.
6. TACO BELL VOLCANO NACHOS
With a name like "volcano," you can expect the worst. And you won't be disappointed: Weighing in at 1,000 calories, 62 grams of fat, and 1,930 milligrams of sodium, this nacho "snack" has all the makings of a nutritional disaster. Its one redeeming quality is its 16 grams of fiber, a testament to the sheer volume of this volatile side dish.